Guided by personal ethics of ‘do more good’, Yuet Mee Ho-Nambiar has a long involvement with sustainability and community building activities. Belief in the oneness of humanity and the nobility of man underpins her interest in matters relating to unity and social cohesion of communities, while her background in a finance-related profession focuses her interest to the area of inclusive economics and development.
We are One
By Yuet Mee Ho-Nambiar
Previously, we spoke about how in so many ways Malaysians are united. Indeed, many often marvel at our ability to live harmoniously together for decades in a multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious society. While we are blessed that way, we are also mindful that unity is an outcome of quality of our relationships with each other, and as in all relationships, requires continuous work to ensure unity thrives.
Our efforts ought to be guided by the outcome we want – the Malaysia we wish to have – and be animated by a set of universal values which shape our language and steer our actions. To attain that vision, one appropriate mental model for unity is to realise that we are of one human family, all Malaysians, inhabiting our Tanahair, bound together in a common destiny.
Our mental models or our worldviews – formed by our beliefs and underlying assumptions – are crucial as they influence our habits of thoughts, the way we speak, and the way we relate to each other.
Clearly education has a central role to play in this shift. This may be through formal classroom-based education, but education for transformation is just as likely to take place in informal settings in the family, in places of worship, and in workplaces.
An essential part of the transformative experience for people of different cultures and faiths is for us to socialise with each other in an environment of trust and equality, and not just remain classmates in class or colleagues at work.
Imagine what our future holds if our education curriculum instils in our children an appreciation of the rich history and perspective of civilization and the unifying forces that contribute to the advancement of civilization rather than focusing on differing ideologies as well as on the wars and events that divide humanity.
Imagine how empowering it would be for our children to be given the space to appreciate inter-faith and inter-ethnic studies through actual engagement of our children in diverse community initiatives. Indeed, education must be lifelong.
It should help us develop the knowledge, values, attitudes, and skills necessary to not only to earn livelihoods but also to contribute constructively to shaping our communities that reflect principles of justice, equity, and unity. Such education will cultivate virtue as the foundation for personal and collective well-being and will nurture in us a deep sense of service and an active commitment to our collective welfare.
The communities we live in also shape our mental model or worldview. The culture it promotes, the attitudes it fosters, and the patterns of thought and behaviour it cultivates, largely defined by its members’ collective sense of purpose, nurture our underlying assumptions.
When that purpose is to contribute to the betterment of society, the community becomes a setting in which powers are multiplied in unified action, where individual will and collective volition are blended, and where the spirit of enterprise is reinforced by a realization of the need for concerted action and a commitment to the common good.
Imagine if/when our existing neighbourhood organisations such as Rukun Tetangga groups and Residents Associations are encouraged to work towards such lofty aims and have effective engagement with grassroot population to foster a sense of community, to consult on issues affecting the neighbourhoods, with everyone feeling welcome to have equitable access to resources of services, facilities and programmes offered by community social organisations and the government.
Crucially too, in socially thriving communities, majority groups would endeavour to bring about social adjustments to include minority groups. The minorities would respond honourably to genuine efforts by the majorities and recognise and respect their duties to the society at large. Both groups would view minority issues in the context of an increasingly interdependent world, as the advantage of the part is best served by ensuring the advantage of the whole, being aware that the whole cannot flourish when parts are deprived.
The third powerful influence on our worldview is the media. It has the ability to shape our attitudes and perceptions, and educate society. It thus has a weighty responsibility to contribute to social integration and has an obligation to serve the public good.
Currently, a great deal of media attention is focussed on the seemingly insurmountable differences that divide peoples and nations, and little attention is given to evidence that these differences can be overcome. The media has a responsibility to help people understand that diversity, often a source of conflict, can also be a powerful resource for social development. It has a responsibility to reflect not only the signs of despair but also the signs of hope.
Given the power of media to influence social values, it could highlight the importance and the honour of community service which engenders the essential principles of social integration – including compassion, acceptance, love, understanding, sacrifice, humility, and commitment to justice – to manifest in society. By focussing on constructive, unifying, and cooperative undertakings, the media could demonstrate humanity’s capacity to work together to meet the enormous challenges facing it.
Truth be told, as Malaysians, for better or for worse, we are interdependent on each other. Our task ahead is not to oppose this reality but rather to promote it through our efforts at creating higher levels of unity while simultaneously preserving our diversity. Indeed, our multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious diversity is our very strength. Without the paradigm of unity, diversity leads to division; without diversity, unity leads to uniformity.
History has shown us numerous times that Malaysians already possess the collective power to transform ourselves. We can be confident that every sincere effort invested for this purpose will be richly rewarded by the release, from our own selves, of a fresh measure of those constructive energies on which our future depends.
The views expressed here are that solely of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect that of Weekly-Echo’s.